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Such enthusiasm led to a number of showier assignments, and Stone made the most of them. Consider what happened to Stone and a producer during the riots that followed the Colorado Avalanche's June 2001 Stanley Cup victory. "I was doing a report saying, 'It looks like they're getting ready for tear gas,' when I hear this dink-dink sound. It's the tear-gas canister landing at our feet, and it went off right in our faces. I couldn't talk, couldn't breathe, and the producer was throwing up -- and we were still on the air." To date, Stone has been tear-gassed three times, and he acknowledges that "it's kind of a joke around the newsroom now that I sound better when I'm choking."
He got many opportunities to broadcast live amid fumes this past summer, when he and Jayson Luber served as KOA's go-to guys for coverage of Colorado's wildfires. As usual, Stone threw himself into this task, earning his certification as a wildland firefighter in order to gain access to areas that would be off-limits to reporters with less training. He didn't sleep in his own bed for a month and a half because he was jumping from blaze to blaze. "At the end of that, you get real tired of the smell of smoke," he says. But seconds later, he describes it as "a really fun summer."
For his efforts, Stone was honored as first runner-up for the 2002 ABC Radio National Individual Reporter of the Year contest. The prize was based on his reports about the wildfires, riots, flooding, a tornado and a series of investigations on security at Denver International Airport done in conjunction with KOA military analyst Bob Newman ("Bombs Away," November 8, 2001) that earned the twosome an Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio-Television News Directors Association.
Given this level of recognition, Stone would seem primed to jump from KOA into a higher-profile gig, following a long line of predecessors, including Cheryl Preheim (now at Channel 9), Kim Kobel (a Channel 4 reporter), Carol McKinley (with the Fox News Channel's Denver bureau) and Steffan Tubbs (he's a correspondent for ABC Radio). Bell expects this will happen eventually, but he'd like to forestall it for a while. "We've had that talk," he says, "and we've come to an agreement that we've stuck with him through school, so he's going to give us a commitment of a few years -- and after that, we'll see what happens. We expect that at some time he'll grow to something larger within our organization, or maybe within Clear Channel [KOA's owner], or maybe somewhere else. That's the way I operate with people. But whichever way it goes, I expect him to be doing great things in the future."
To say the least, Stone displays not the slightest resentment about the scenario Bell has constructed for him. "I don't want to sound like I'm touting the company line too much, but KOA has been great to me. It's a great place to learn the business, and every time I work on a story, I feel I come back with a little nugget of information about what I like, what I don't like, and how to do my job better. They've been too good to me, so I'm not going anywhere."
Not right away, anyhow. Stone doesn't rule out an eventual jump to television, which first captured his imagination during that long-ago CNN tour. But he isn't dismissive of radio. "I have a bunch of professors in journalism school saying, 'It's great what you're doing now, but you don't want to do that forever.' And I tell them that radio's not dead. I mean, when we did wildfire coverage, radio was the only source of information a lot of people had. So down the line, I don't know which way I'll go."
Besides staying out of medical school, that is.